Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eternal Moment #3: Cold Water in the Sahara

November 1993.
York, Pennsylvania.

I am 28.

A year following my dad's death, I find myself in the rolling hills of south-central Pennsylvania, working at a mid-sized newspaper. Mostly, I've kept to myself. I've had many opportunities to socialize with my colleagues, who, like me are all the same age and all trying to make names for themselves so that they can achieve the gold ring of Woodward & Bernstein fame.

The difference between them and me is that 99 percent of them aren't believers. They mean well when they invite me to go dancing to nearby Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Staying out in bars until the wee hours is common, too, even during the work week. But I refuse each invitation.

I search for friends among local church congregations. I run into an unusual phenomenon: Every time I disclose I'm a newspaper reporter, I'm immediately held at an arm's length. I see the flash of distrust wash over faces, and formerly friendly "Christian believers" morph into stand-offishly polite church attendees. You know the difference, I'm sure.

I don't belong in either arena. I'm thought of as a prudish good girl in the newsroom and as a wayward child of the distrusted media in church settings. I realize that if I want to truly be "in the world and not of the world," I will have to consign myself to a temporary state of solitude.

For the most part, I'm okay with it. I'm still mourning my father's passing and usually spend my off hours sleeping. The one thing that brings me a spot of joy is the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg. On weekends, when the weather is good, I wander the fields, gaze at the monuments, talk to the tour guides, mill among the tourist families, frequent the restaurants that serve courses of that era and shop among the quaint merchants selling country-like decor and home-made jams.

I'm living life, but on the fringes, on the edges. I'm not fully recovered emotionally from the loss of my father, and I'm also not fully engaged in the lives of those around me.

In summary, I feel as if I'm in the midst of my own Sahara.

This goes on for months.

Then one day, I get an unexpected call. An old friend from college is in town, raising money for missions. Do I want to get together?

I jump at it. It's the first "Christian" who truly knows me that I've seen in months.

You may find this hard to believe, a girl and guy hanging out in a very brotherly-sisterly manner ... but that's exactly the way it was. The way my friend connected with me was more than just someone looking to fill up time from boredom. He ministered to me. He immediately assessed my situation, fully. He saw it for what it was, and he was deeply concerned.

I showed him around Gettysburg and all of my little haunts. I cooked dinner for us at my tiny apartment. I plugged in my favorite DVDs, and, respectfully-brotherly to the end, he watched them (even the chick flicks) and left quietly after I'd fallen asleep.

When it was time to bid farewell, we stood in a church parking lot where my friend had just given a talk. The black of the November night settled around us, and the crisp air hung around my shoulders like a cape. As I talked, white puffs of steam traveled towards a street light. My ankle-length black wool coat and black leather gloves made me feel as if I was a child playing grown-up dress-up. For to me, my interaction with my friend was that real -- no pretenses. What the rest of the world saw, he saw right through.

He compassionately listened to me as I nervously prattled, not wanting to really let go of this drink of cold water in my Sahara. And then he said one thing to me that will stay with me forever:

"Of all of the people I know, all of the people we graduated with, you're the only person who is really in the world and not of the world."

The words stopped me cold. I'd always felt like that was my situation, but no one had ever spoken it out loud to me.


"Yeah, look at what you're doing -- you're in a newsroom with people who don't believe in God, and you're trying to go to church, and no one will accept you because you're in a newsroom. You're living the life that Jesus said we should expect."

I hugged him in gratitude, not wanting to let go of the presence of a true friend. Time stopped until I got into my car and drove away, wiping away tears -- not from sadness but from the recognition that I'd had the privilege of another eternal moment.

Have you ever been that for someone -- a drink of cold water in the middle of their Sahara?

Have you stopped time with your encouragement for them, so that they regain the strength they need to go on?

Do you allow yourself to be life-giving?

Tune in for Eternal Moment #4: When Animal Crackers Became Manna

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